Just when Vanderbilt is back to its winning ways inside the usually friendly confines of Memorial Gymnasium, the road beckons.
While most teams buckle away from home, No. 25 Vanderbilt has done the exact opposite.
The Commodores are 4-1 in true road games and 2-0 on neutral courts. Inside Memorial, they are 10-4, which is less impressive considering they had lost just five home games combined over the previous two seasons.
They face one of their biggest challenges on Tuesday when they play at Bud Walton Arena, where Arkansas is 15-0 in 2011-12. There the Razorbacks (15-6, 3-3) have pulled off several upsets, including wins over ranked opponents Mississippi State and Michigan.
Tip off is 8 p.m. on ESPN.
“They have a great home court advantage,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said before practice on Monday. “We’re going to have to play our ‘A’ game. We’re going to have to be the good road team we’ve been. We’re going to have to play for 40 minutes.”
Vanderbilt (16-5, 5-1 SEC) jumped into the Top 25 for the first time in six weeks after two straight wins last week against in-state rivals Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State. The Commodores have won 10 of their last 11, with their only loss during that stretch to then-No. 18 Mississippi State at home on Jan. 21.
Arkansas is coming off a loss at Alabama and should be happy to return home. The Razorbacks are 0-6 outside of Fayetteville.
After five years as the head coach of Missouri, Mike Anderson quickly has implemented his version of “40 minutes of Hell.” The hectic full-court press defense was made famous by his mentor Nolan Richardson. The Razorbacks lead the SEC with 9.2 steals a game and 17.7 turnovers a game.
If teams can break through the press, though, they can score against it. The Razorbacks rank last in the league in scoring defense, allowing 66.1 points a game.
Vanderbilt averages 14.3 turnovers but has struggled against teams that run a fullcourt press. It committed 18 turnovers at South Carolina and in its only road loss, at Louisville.
The Commodores are not unfamiliar with Anderson’s press. They played against Missouri in each of the last two seasons, splitting the meetings despite an average of 20.5 turnovers.
“It is a really good press. He is a great coach with that,” guard Brad Tinsley said. “It is just a matter of being strong with the ball, knowing that there is going to be pressure the whole time and you are going to get trapped at some points. It is just being strong in the double team, have early outlets and keep the ball moving.”
Led by reserve guard B.J. Young, who averages 14.4 points, the Razorbacks bring a lot of depth. Nine players average 16 minutes or more. Thus, bench play — on both sides — could be a deciding factor in the outcome.
The Commodores hope from more from their reserves. They were held scoreless for the first time all season against MTSU. Vanderbilt’s starters account for 87.4 percent of the team’s points.
“What is an issue is how they play — not how many points they score — but how they play,” Stallings said. “Our bench play has been pretty solid. It was OK on Saturday. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t lessened by the fact that we didn’t get any points from them. We didn’t get particularly good defensive play from our bench. But we didn’t get particularly good defensive play from some of our starters.
“We just have to be a very consistent defensive team and I’m not sure the last two or three games we have displayed the kind of consistency that we were a little bit earlier. We need to get back to that.”
• Senior forward Jeffery Taylor was named the SEC player of the week after he averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds in the last two games.
Taylor, a 6-foot-7, 225-pounder from Norrkoping, Sweden, scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a dominating performance against Tennessee on Tuesday. Then, on Saturday against MTSU, he chipped in 17 points and six rebounds.
Taylor, the league’s leading active scorer with 1,680 points, is second in the SEC in scoring in all games (17.3 ppg). Only teammate John Jenkins (20.0 ppg) is ahead of him. Taylor also leads the league in SEC-games only in three-point field goal percentage with a 68.2 percent mark.